Report: Radiohead, Sydney 2012

Report: Radiohead, Sydney 2012

Sydney Entertainment Centre
Monday November 12, 2012

Thom Yorke says it so I don’t have to: “We’re a trying bunch, you’ll get used to it.” Even after an absence of eight years, the space of two albums and unprecedented demand, Radiohead have no intention of making their live show easy for anybody. Riding off the back of a record which indulges the band’s love of schizophrenic, drum and bass heavy arrangements, with few singable tunes among them, and with the front half of their set slammed full of the deepest and most unyielding (‘Myxomatosis’, ‘Feral’) cuts from their post-Amnesiac oeuvre, the Radiohead of 2012 obviously don’t just want to blow your mind -- they want to rearrange it.

Thanks to a truly innovative light show which defies explanation but involves a giant split-screen backdrop and hovering, fully re-arrangeable video plates, it’s easy to get lost in some of the more difficult moments. Like the first thirty minutes in which someone in the mixing desk has fallen asleep and Colin Greenwood’s bass is bleeding out so badly that you can barely hear anything else. It muddles up ‘Lucky’, an early (and rare) drop into pre-2000 canon, more suited to the insistent sonic pummeling of King Of Limbs material, almost all of which is aired this evening. Once that’s evened out and Yorke has shaken out some of that classic UK dubstep he’s been dropping in DJ sets across the world, we start to get a proper look at what we’re dealing with.

Radiohead’s strength has always been that there isn’t just one star in the band, there’s five equally impressive players who –most of the time - want to push the envelope collectively. With his brother’s levels sorted out, the audience get their first chance to hear the remarkable tone and otherworldly soloing of Jonny Greenwood, who matches the intensity of his singer on ‘Nude’ and pulls out exactly the amount of firepower we all want on ‘Planet Telex’ and ‘There There’, once he’s finished playing drums.

In fact, there’s a hell of a lot of drums all over the place, both digital and physical. Phil Selway has his body double in Portishead drummer Clive Deamer playing the opposite beat on a second kit for most of the new songs; the entire band drop their axes and pick up sticks on the aforementioned ‘There There’, which everyone sort of knows is going to happen but doesn’t make it any less exciting. The concentration on the bottom end sometimes obscures Yorke’s voice, but for a guy who made two whole albums at the turn of the millennium that pretty much ripped it apart, he probably doesn’t mind.

Tonight the audience is treated the three encores. With the exception of the songs already mentioned and a double-speed, double-drum ‘Lotus Flower’—yes, with scarecrow dancing—that’s where the best stuff is. Yorke and Greenwood return to the stage after less than two minutes and bust out a glorious, looped and true rendition of ‘Give Up The Ghost’ before rolling straight into ‘Pyramid Song’, which is precisely the moment a lot of dudes in my general vicinity start crying. It’s spectacular and despite its stuttering time changes, perhaps one of their most simply executed songs, but it works. That’s backed up with a spine-tingling ‘Reckoner’ and the obligatory ‘Paranoid Android’, which seems to compress itself into half the amount of time it actually is, over before we can even really enjoy it.

It should be mentioned that Yorke’s voice—when we start to hear it properly—is easily worth the price of the ticket alone. As he pulls out those gorgeous long notes in ‘Nude’ and ‘Pyramid Song’, and even on the delicate mish-mash of ‘Weird Fishes’, you realise how difficult his job is but how effortless he makes it seem. Being out of tune or off the mark simply doesn’t exist in his universe, and the audience are all the richer for it. He sings so expertly in his falsetto register that it seems like it’s meshed with his natural voice, and that’s something no amount of wub-wub is ever going to be able to cover up.

The real kicker comes right at the end, with a double look-into Kid A that involves a lot of Jonny messing around with what must be the world’s largest pedal board, recreating the chopped and screwed aesthetic of ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ to the delight of all of the twenty-something who were highly impressionable teenagers when that album dropped. The band leaves the stage but Greenwood stays, seguing the noise into a hyperspeed ‘Idioteque’ that doesn’t exactly find its footing in the new tempo, but with all the screaming, there’s little chance of worrying about the pulse. And then they’re gone for good this time, two and half hours and a few epilepsy inducing light arrangements later.

Those coming in their OK Computer t-shirts expecting to hear the highlights from 1995 to 2001 didn’t get much bang for their buck this evening, but there’s plenty to take away from one of the last bands of this scale who value experimentation over nearly everything, regardless of what concrete structure they’re playing in. This is a live experience that was truly live; very rarely did it sound like the records at all, which is ultimately how it should be. We just needed five humble. middle-aged guys from Oxford to remind us.

Jonno Seidler

(Photos: Edwina Pickles)

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